This is part of a continuing series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Jenn Mercer is a French to English translator specializing in Legal, Financial, and IT translation. She has degrees in French and English from NC State University and a Certificate in French to English Translation from New York University. She is the current Assistant Administrator of the French Language Division.
How did you get involved in translation?
Quite deliberately, but after a rambling path through more mundane professions – and when I say mundane I am not kidding. Other translators have exotic backstories that involve traveling around the world and herding llamas, I worked for an insurance company and later prepared taxes. I loved learning about taxes in a way that still frightens people close to me, but was a fair premonition of some of the things I enjoy about translation.
I love learning about complicated systems and how they fit together. This applies to both learning languages and the subject matter for the documents I translate. I don’t just learn the minimum, I delve into exotic areas with little immediate practical application (ask me about fuel tax exemptions for watercraft).
However, eventually I went back to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree and find an actual profession rather than just a job. I started out majoring in English because, well, have you ever seen me in a bookstore? It’s not a pretty picture unless you own the bookstore. I found a cool sounding course, Introduction to Translation, took, um, most of the French classes in preparation for it, so much so that I got a second major in French and started research on how to become a translator. There was even more work and studying after this, but my rambling path had paid off. I had detailed knowledge on a variety of subjects, particularly those others find boring, but are often more lucrative. I also had many business skills that I had learned in a cubicle, along with a firm desire to never again find myself back in one.
What subject areas do you translate?
Legal, Financial, and IT. Legal and financial are easy enough to understand from my work background. IT makes sense because I studied programming for a few years (it was a rather rambling path) and one of my jobs was in Tech Support for an IT logistics company.
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d like enough musical talent to at least be able to play an instrument. I tried the ukulele, which is supposed to be as easy as it gets and I can’t even tell when it’s in tune.
Tell us about a particularly interesting project you have worked on.
I’ve worked on translations of two books. One is “Can Finance Save the World” by Bertrand Badré, which I co-translated with Carolyn Yohn. It looks at what financial tools can do in an entirely different way and it was quite refreshing. I also was part of a team translating a “book” that is actually part of a video game. The language in it was deliberately archaic and over the top. It’s still in pre-release, but I’ve been able to see a few previews with people’s reactions to it, which is a lot of fun – particularly when you translate a lot of things that you are not sure anyone ever reads.
Where would you most like to live?
In a library, preferably an enormous one with comfy chairs and hidden passages.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.
I don’t know if either of these things are surprising, but I have a few passions that do not come up often in translation. I am a major comic book fan (mostly Marvel) and have a rather extensive pull list at my local comic book store. I also keep tropical fish, which is a nice quiet hobby for a translator.
What’s your favorite word or phrase in French or English?
It is always hard to pick an absolute favorite anything, but I have “Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été” tattooed on my left shoulder, so that makes the cut. It is reminder to me that there is always light, even when things seem the bleakest.
What is your favorite quote?
On a lighter note, I have two movie quotes that motivate me as a freelancer:
- “Coffee is for closers” from Glengarry Glen Ross. I’ve modified this rule to mean that I’m only allowed to grab Chipotle for lunch when I have a big project.
- “When someone asks if you are a god, you say yes” from Ghostbusters. This reminds me that sometimes a bit of extra self-confidence is actually the safest course of action.
Do you have a hero?
Thor, Goddess of Thunder (KRA-KA-THOOM!).